Thursday, July 31, 2014

Two Bronx Students Talk About Their Schools and the School To Prison Pipeline


  Yesterday, I met with more than an hour with two Bronx high school students in a great Fordham program called "The History Makers" to answer their questions about the School to Prison Pipeline.  After I answered several questions they posed about drug policies, school discipline, race and class biases in law enforcement,  and Michell Alexander's book "The New Jim Crow" the conversation turned to their own school experiences.  What they said left me deeply depressed about what inner city students and students of color experience in all too many New York City public schools and charter schools.
 Each of these young people attend a high school that is co-located in a building with many other schools, and their description of school conditions was a telling indictment of the "small schools movement" that was one key component of Gates financed school reform several years ago ( the young woman's school was in the Northeast Bronx; the young man's school was in the South Bronx near Yankee Stadium).  They described schools which lacked access to gyms, theaters, art rooms and music facilities, thereby making it impossible to have quality arts programs as part of regularly daily activities and which had teams that met after school, but provided no daily or even weekly physical activity. Their school days consisted of a cycle classes and tests unbroken by anything which was enjoyable or made room for student creativity. They asked me "Do you think conditions like this encourage students to drop out of school and support the school to prison pipeline?"  I could only answer "Yes."
  They then described a stifling atmosphere of zero toleranace discipline policies. The young woman's school had metal detectors ( which she described as humiliaing every student in her building); the young man's did not  but both schools appeared to literally suspend students at the drop of a hat.  You could get suspended at the young womans school for having highlights in your hair or wearing hoop earings; in both schools, talking back to a teacher was a suspendable offense. The young man had been suspended, the young woman hadn't, but each had friends who been suspended so many times that they dropped out of school.  They were enraged at how students in their schools were treated on a daily basis and I suggested they read a great book a former student ( Kathleen Nolan) had written called "Police in the Schools," set in a North Bronx high school that had been subdivided into several schools.
  They then went on to complain that that anything enjoyable in their schools, from after school programs, to school trips, required students to put out their own money to participate in, thereby limiting participation.  They described their schools as obsessed with academics, test scores and graduation rates to the exclusion of the things that might make students feel comfortable or actually enjoy their school experience.  They were grateful for the opportunity to be prepared for college, but the price they were paying seemed very high, and they were appalled at how many of their classmates had rebelled against the stifling atmosphere ad had dropped out.
  When the conversation ended, i felt tremendous admiration for these two young people and also a profound disappointment that they had been deprived of so many of the things that should be part of any child's school experience- arts, music, exercise,  respectful treatment and freedom from institutionalized harassment by teachers, administrators, and school security.
  "What you describe should be called 'The Prison to Prison Pipeline'"   I told them as they prepared to leave. They agreed.
   We hugged and promised to stay in touch
   I am still angry at what they have to endure.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Arne Duncan Drops in Unexpectedly on Meeting With BATS at US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights and Gets an Earful!

   On July 28, 2014, following the  BAT Rally outside the US Department of Education, a delegation of BATS went up to  the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights to share some of the main issues that BATS had with  Department Policy.  Representing the BATS were Marla Kilfoyle, General Manager of BATS. Dr Yohuru Williams of Fairfield University, Chicago BAM (Badass Moms) leader  Shoneice Reynolds and her son Asean Johnson, Tennessee BAT leader Larry Proffitt, and Dr Mark Naison, co founder of BATS. The meeting had been set up by Marla Kilfoyle through an official of the Department of Education’s Office of Communications.

  Arne Duncan was not originally scheduled to attend the meeting, but dropped in unexpectedly in the middle. What follows  is my  account of the meeting, including the dialogue with Mr. Duncan, along with and some reflections on what it all means.  How much of what transpired will lead to further communication and action, and how much represented a “smoke and mirrors” game by officials of the Department remains to be seen.

   After going through security, we were escorted to a conference room in the
US Ed Department’s Office of Civil Rights, where we were met by 9 people, including a senior staff member of the Office of Civil Rights, Robert Kim, who chaired the meeting, along with staff members from the Offices of Communications and Community Outreach and several student interns with the Department.  Mr Kim, who chaired the meeting, was very cordial and asked us if we could present our major concerns, saying he hoped we could find areas of agreement as well as areas where we disagreed, and that a dialogue could  develop which would hopefully continue after the meetings.

    When Mr. Kim asked if someone would present the groups major concerns, I stepped forward, I decided to do so in a manner which would focus attention  on Department of Education policies that  maximized educational  inequality and violated the civil rights of students, parents and teachers in inner city and working class communities.   Using my own experiences in the Bronx as a reference point, I said that BATS were deeply concerned with how Race to the Top Policies, which required rating schools and teachers on the basis of student test scores, closing allegedly “failing schools,” and  preferring charter schools over public schools had the following consequences:

    Leading  teachers in vulnerable neighborhoods to “teach to the test” to the detriment of activities which fostered student creativity.
   Leading to the use of recess time, gym time, and after school time to test prep, maximizing health problems in poor and working class neighborhoods
    Leading the mass firing of veteran teachers and a sharp decline in the percentage of teachers of color on many cities.
     Leading to the destabilization of neighborhoods and the smothering of parent, teacher and student voices in the shaping of education policy.
     Leading to the demonization of public school teachers and their being blamed for everything from the achievement gap for the persistence of poverty and inequality.
     Leading to the best young teachers leaving  the profession prematurely

     The irony here, I said, was that these policies, promoted with  Civil Rights rhetoric, were riding roughshod over the Civil Rights of residents of inner city communities.  I asked for a two year moratorium on all these policies- no more school closings, no more VAM, no more charter school creation- and a new effort by the US Department Education to have teachers voices have a primary role in shaping Department policy rather than business leaders.

       My remarks appeared to catch many of the officials there by surprise. Several agreed with what I was saying; others tried to defend Department of Education policies and say states were ultimately responsible for the abuses I was describing
        The points of agreement expressed by Department of Education officials who spoke up were on the following issues:

 Need to reverse the declining percentage of teachers or color
Need to stop best young teachers from leaving the profession
 Need to stop use of recess and gym for test prep
Need to end demonization of teachers by public officials

    However, several of the officials, while agreeing that we needed to address the above problems insisted that school closings, charter school preferences, and the use of test scores to rate teachers and schools were not the sources of those problems

  As this point, Shoneice Reynolds, Asean Johnson, and Larry Proffitt entered the conversation forcefully and eloquently.  Shoneice and Asean talked in depth about how  in Chicago, community schools were first  starved, then closed and charter schools put in their place, smothering and stifling parent voices, depriving children of great neighborhood schools, and making Chicago neighborhoods more dangerous.   They gave example after example of one great program after another being eliminated in public schools, while charter schools were created which were often limited in their programming and abusive in their discipline policies.
Larry Profitt described how rating teachers on the basis of test scores was driving the best teachers out of the profession in almost every school district in Tenneessee and were severely constricting the curriculum.  Both put the blame squarely on the US Department of Education for promoting policies which led to those destructive consequences and for promoting rhetoric which demonized teachers.
       Right in the middle of both of these conversations, Arne Duncan walked in and introduced himself! Needless to say, we were surprised because we were told he would NOT be at the meeting.  Especially since he entered, along with one of his top aides,  just as things were starting to get heated and real disagreements were emerging.
      Secretary Duncan after  introducing himself,  and saying that he could only stay for a few minutes, asked for two things; first if  we could articulate our concerns about the Department’s policies on dealing with Special needs students, and secondly, if Shoneice and Asean could step out with him to talk about what was going on in Chicago.
      In response to his first comment, Marla Kilfoyle started speaking about her concerns about Department from her standpoint of the parent of a special needs student as well as a teacher. She said it appeared that Department policies  were forcing school districts to disregard individual student IEP’s and exposing special needs students to inappropriate and abusive levels of testing.
       Secretary Duncan deflected her remarks by saying that the Department was concerned that too many children of color were being inappropriately diagnosed as being Special Needs children  and that once they were put in that category they were permanently marginalized. He then said “We want to make sure that all student are exposed to a rigorous curriculum.”
        At that point, I interrupted him in a very loud voice and said “ We don’t like the word ‘rigor.” We prefer to talk about creativity and maximizing students potential.”
        Secretary Duncan was someone taken aback by my comments. He said “ we might disagree about the language, but what I want is for all students to be able to take advanced placement courses or be exposed to an IB (International Baccalaureat) curriculum
       At this point, Larry Proffitt interrupted the Secretary  and said that in Tennessee, Special Needs students were being abused and humiliated by abusive and inappropriate testing and that their teachers knew this, and were afraid to speak out.
       We were clearly at an impasse here, which the Secretary dealt with by saying he had to leave and asking Shoneice and Asean to step into the hall with him and continue the conversation.
        The rest of us in the room were all now  pretty confused and more than a little upset.  However, Robert Kim spoke up and said that the rest of the DOE staff were ready to spend up to a half an hour more continuing the conversation, and hopefully we could develop some consensus on areas of agreement and ways of continuing the dialogue.
    Now, things started to get really interesting!  The woman from the Communications office who hadn’t previously spoken up, said that she was concerned about how angry teachers were at the Department since because it was her experience that every time Secretary Duncan travelled to a new city, he met with teachers to hear their concerns.   I then said, perhaps impolitely, that the Secretary fueled teacher mistrust  by making statement after statement showing disrespect for teachers, from his support of the firings of Central Falls Rhode Island teachers in 2009, to his comments on Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans public schools, to his support of Cathy Black for NYC school chancellor, to his recent endorsement of the Vergara decision undermining teacher due process.    “Maybe if you can tell him to stop making provocative comments like these,” I said, “maybe teachers will regard the Department more favorably.”
  At this point, Dr Yohuru Williams chimed in with a suggestion for how the Department could genuinely welcome teacher voices- calling a “National Teachers Congress”- where teachers from all over the country could come together to frankly express their concerns about Department of Education policies.  He added “those teachers can’t be handpicked to say what the Department wants to hear, they have to be democratically  selected.”  His suggestion was discussed for several minutes and the Communication directors promised to give it serious consideration. This was one of the few talking points in the meeting from which there might be some serious follow up
    After this the director of Community outreach and one of the interns started critiquing our perspective that federal policies were driving the best teachers out of the profession, stifling creativity in the classroom, and leading to a decline in teachers of color.  In doing so they  started defending school  closings and VAM, asking us whether  there were any circumstances under which schools should be close and whether there was any method of evaluating teachers that did not rely on student test scores.
     At this point, Dr Williams spoke up, saying that in Connecticut, the suppression of community voices in cities like Bridgeport by unelected school boards was being justified by arguments that mayoral control was supported, if not required Race to the Top, and that similar dynamics were at play in Hartford and New London.  “Does the US Department of Education support real democracy in education decision making,” Dr. Williams he asked?”
     They two officials had no real answer to what Dr Wiliams was saying and deflected attention from his critique by insisting that we needed to hold teachers accountable by student test scores because there was no other way of making sure teachers took every student seriously and helped all of them reach their full potential.
     Now things started to get really heated. Larry Proffitt said that teaching to the test is not real teaching and to have students full potential unleashed , you needed teachers to give them individual attention and kinds of in depth instruction and inspiration that no bubble test could measure.  I said VAM was a disaster, along with the rest of  Race to the Top and we need a two year moratorium on test based teacher evaluation.
      Robert Kim then entered as a peacemaker and said “how can we keep this discussion going?”. We said, call us back. We are glad to continue a discussion about how to best get teacher voices more input into Department policy, how to find forms of assessing teacher quality that do not depend on student test scores, and how to attract and retain more great teachers, especially teachers of color. 
    Mr. Kim and the two Communications office said they would find ways of keeping the conversation going, and then called an end to the meeting.
     We left the meeting feeling that we had spoken frankly, that we had been heard, that some people agreed with our main points, while others disagreed. 
      However, nothing concrete had been achieved. There were no policy changes that anyone had agreed to and certainly no overall agreement to reverse the directions of Race to the Top.
       There were a few small glimmers of hope at the end of the meeting. Mr Kim, the top Civil Rights official ,  came up to me after the meeting and said that he really liked our group, that he would try to find ways of keeping the conversation going, and that he would like to meet with me the next time he came to New York. I agreed to remain in communications with him.  Through the entire meeting, he had been respectful, helpful and astute.
     Then, after everyone else left, another staff member from the Office of Civil Rights came up to me and said he really liked what we had to say. What could their office do right now to help us?   I thought a second and said to him “ Investigate charter school abuses. All over the nation, unregulated charters are employing disciplinary practices and expelling students in ways which would not be acceptable in a public school. If your office would start investigating such practices as civil rights violations, it would make a huge difference.”
      He smiled at me and said “Thanks for the suggestion. I will look into it.”
      His response gave me a glimmer of hope that some of the ten plus people in that room were on the same page as BATS on a few issues, even though the Secretary was clearly unmoved by anything we said.
     We spoke truth to power, without fear and without compromise.
      Whether we will be called back to continue the conversation only time will tell.



Friday, July 25, 2014

BATS- Finding a Teacher Voice

If there is a single contribution that BATS has made in the one year of its existence, it is to show the powers that be that public school teachers- in all their diversity and variety-- are not a silent, compliant group who can be demonized, standardized, scripted, deprived of due process, and forced to commit professional malpractice at the expense of the students and families they serve without speaking up, fighting back and ultimately organizing to replace the people responsible for these soul destroying policies. Together, we have found a teacher voice that is loud, but also compassionate and prophetic. Thank you all, for making this possible. It has truly been a collective effort and a labor of love ^0^0^0^

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Four Reasons Why I Am Pumped Up About the BATS March on Washington

1. It is a celebration of the creativity of public school teachers, parents and students as well as a protest with songs, plays, flash mobs, banners, poems and chants. What it is NOT, is a litany of boring speeches.
2. It is a multiracial event which show cases our movement's growing strength in the inner city, with speakers highlighting protests against corporate school reform in Chicago, Newark, Philadelphia and Washington DC. We have speakers from the Badass Moms of Chicago, from the Newark Student Union, from parents groups in Philadelphia along choruses and theater groups from Akron and Washington DC.
3. We have a full day of leadership training the day before the March which includes workshops on blogging, on labor history, on how to run for union and public office, on how to deal with issues of race, and privilege within our movement.
4. This is an entirely self funded event, with all money raised through a Go-Fund Me site, We have not accepted grants from any foundation, publisher, business or union.
If you like what you hear, come join us at the US Department of Education in Washington on Monday, July 28, from 10 AM to 5 PM!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Five Ways to Tell Whether the Charter School Near You Sucks

There are some excellent charter schools in NY and around the nation. I am not attacking them. However, all too many charter schools have the following characteristics

1. Over paid "CEO's" who take pride in their dictatorial management style.
2. Terrorized teacher temps who have no union protection 
3. Student disciplinary policies which draw heavily upon shame and humiliation
4, Systematic weeding out of students who test poorly, especially ELL and Special Needs students.
5. Politically connected boards of directors who tolerate fiscal abuse, and in some cases benefit from it directly.

Poor and working class communities throughout the nation have been deluged with these schools in the last ten years, in part because favoritism towards them has been national policy under the Obama Administration, with the enthusiastic support of Republican elected officials. 

The results in terms of test scores, college entrance, or any other so called objective measure, do not justify the investment, much less the collateral damage that charter school favoritism has brought with it.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

New York Now Leads the Way in the Movement Against Common Core- At The Polls

  Something truly extraordinary has happened in the New York State Gubernatorial race-something with broad national implications.  A big money Democratic Governor, Andrew Cuomo, who thought he was going to make himself a front runner in the 2016 Presidential Race by ramming through legislation requiring teacher evaluations based on Common Core aligned tests, has generated so much opposition among teachers and parents that there are now three different Gubernatorial candidates who oppose Common Core- the Republican candidate, Rob Astorino, the Green Party candidate, Howie Hawkins, and the new and quite formidable challenger in the Democratic Primary, Zephyr Teachout.

   There are two reasons this situation is "game changer"

   First, it shows how much opposition to Common Core is emerging  across the political spectrum.  For the last year, Common Core supporters in the media, the corporate world, and the US Department of Education have tried to portray Common Core opponents as extremists whose views should be rejected out of hand, but the what we have in New York is a mainstream Republican, a strong candidate on the left, and a liberal Democrat all saying that Common Core is untested, undemocratic and a threat to strong, locally controlled public schools.  And this position is going to be put forward strongly from now until election day. Even if Andrew Cuomo wins the Democratic primary, he will be facing two strong anti-Common Core voices in the general election.

   Secondly, Zephyr Teachout's primary challenge to Andrew Cuomo shows that powerful, Wall Street financed Democratic politicians pushing Corporate School reform no longer can no longer be sure that their positions will go unchallenged and their jobs will be secure.  Anti-testing activism is now moving into the heart of the Democratic Party, and Democratic politicians like Rahm Emmanuel, Andrew Cuomo, and Dannel Malloy can no longer be sure their big money donors assure their political future.   Even the leaders of the national teachers unions have finally, thanks to their enraged membership, gotten the courage to challenge the Obama administration's education policies.  Ras Baraka's election as Mayor of Newark over a Wall Street financed Democrat was a first sign of Corporate Reform Democrats losing their vice grip on the party; Teachout's primary challenge is a second, and if Karen Jennings Lewis decides to challenge Rahm Emmanuel in Chicago, maybe, just maybe, the national Democratic party will get the message that its education policies are a disaster.

   What does all this mean?

   That anti-Common Core voters in New York, now have candidates reflecting their views in the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, and in third party movements, and do not have to vote against their conscience on other issues to oppose Common Core and the top down, elite financed, coercive approach to School Reform it represents.

   And that bodes well for the future of public education in the United States

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Teacher Temps and Computer Tenders Can't Move Children Out of Poverty

One of the things I am most worried about in the rush to on line learning and disposable teacher temps is the elimination of relationship building and mentoring, which in my experience, is key in having education move people out of poverty and promote upward mobility.

When you grow up poor, there are many skills other than strictly academic ones you have to learn to bring resources into your family and community, or if you choose, to move into the middle class. Teachers and coaches who go the extra mile for their students- especially those who remain in their jobs for a long time- play a critical role in imparting these skills

One of the best examples of comes from a great Brooklyn based baseball organization called Youth Service League, which my son Eric played for, and produced many major league players. The head of the league Mel Zitter, realized early on that the vast majority of his players came from working class Latino families who had little experience with the world their children would enter if they went to college or played professional baseball. So one of the things that Mel raised money to do was have his older teams stay in hotels and eat in sit down restaurants when they were travelling to other cities. He also had them meet with major league players who had come out of Youth Service to talk about what off the field adjustments they had to make. That way, when his players went off to college or were drafted ( Mel got junior college scholarships for almost all his players) they would be prepared to interact with people who came from much wealthier families, would not be intimidated, and could concentrate on what they needed to do in the classroom and on the field.

If we are going to do something to unfreeze upward mobility in this country and have public schools help lift young people out of poverty, we need teachers and coaches who can do the kind of things Mel Zitter did for his players, Teacher temps and computer tenders can't do that.

A Comment Which Reinforces the Argument in the Post

Pamela Lewis Even inside a real live classroom, that mentorship is becoming lost. We are timed down to the minute for each section of the lesson. Even our "mini lesson," a term I always found to be funny, is being shortened. At most, during the 11 years I have been teaching, we couldn't teach for more than 10-15 minutes. Now teaching 10 minutes is too long if u don't break and have the kids talk or answer questions during that time. I understand the push for discussion and student autonomy but the teacher in the room is supposed to be invisible these days. So many kids I have taught need me in the room, need my love, my wit, my face. We all know how much more we are than instructors. I've often been told that I'm the mother someone's never had, so how smart is it to make such a person invisible?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Why Charter School Scandals Resemble the Subprime Mortgage Crisis

To understand why  we may be approaching a charter school crisis that resembles the one that developed around subprime mortgages, you need to understand how investment banks and credit rating agencies seized upon an instrument to make homeownership available to people with limited resources as a vehicle to make fortunes and advance careers, leaving the tax payers with a large bill. I think something similar is happening today with charter schools, once seen as an opportunity to provide better educational opportunities for families in low and moderate income neighborhoods. In each instance,  an institution initially aimed at expanding opportunity for those with limited resources became, because of government favoritism and lack of oversight, a vehicle for profit taking on a grand scale by the very privileged that sometimes left those the institution was designed to help in very bad shape
  The subprime mortgage was a loan offered by banks and financial institutions to people whose credit rating and financial position was too weak to qualify for a normal 20 to 30 year mortgage at the prevailing interest rate.  To protect the lender, this was done by making the interest rate much higher, with the penalty, in the case of default, being repossession of the home that was purchased. This was obviously a high risk endeavor for the borrower. But because the nation was becoming more economically polarized, with working class incomes plunging and middle class incomes stagnant, the Clinton administration and federal lending agencies started pushing this instrument as a way of keeping the dream of homeownership alive in the nation, especially among working class people and people of color.  Banks, savings and loans, and mortgage companies rose to the challenge, writing millions of these mortgages to people whose incomes and collateral did not qualify them for a conventional mortgage.
At times, they aggressively marketed these mortgages, pushing them on people who never dreamed they could purchase a home, triggering a wave of new residential construction in many parts of the nation.  It seemed like a democratic moment in the nation’s history- millions of new home owners, many of them people of color, a boom in residential construction, work for lawyers and bankers specializing in residential loans.
 But underlying this boom were shady practices that elected officials chose to ignore. Many of the mortgages were written in ways that hid the risks borrowers were taking with variable rates that rose sharply after the first few years.   There was no way  borrowers were going to be able to pay their mortgages with the rates they would have five or ten years after they were initially written and many  would lose the homes they had purchased.  Worse yet, investment banks began to bundle these mortgages into bond offerings, and sell them as a safe investments to insurance companies, pension funds, government institutions, and high end investors around the world, raking in huge commissions as they did so.  And here, corruption on a grand scale turned a risky lending practice into a destabilizing force of deadly proportions in the global economy.  Rating agencies, seeing huge profits being made by their best customers, the large investment banks, started giving triple A ratings to bonds based on the bundling of individual mortgages which, were they rated, would have been giving a rating of “F.” This practice ended up spreading the risk into every corner of the global economy, as investors rushed to gobble up the bonds, more mortgages were written and sold to meet the demand. And for a while it all seemed to work. Millions of people who never had homes how had them, while fortunes were being made in the writing, bundling and marketing of these mortgages.
   But inevitably, the boom turned to bust.  When the high rates on the mortgages started kicking in, millions of people defaulted on their loans, not only losing their homes but setting in motion a chain reaction which destabilized not only the banks which had written the mortgages, but the financial institutions which had bundled them, along with their customers. Some of the largest banks and insurance companies in the nation failed and went under, and others had to be rescued through an injection of funds from the federal government at huge expense to tax payers.  And as the economy plunged into near Depression, the residential housing market was shattered, and along with it the dream of widespread home ownership among the poor. Today, there are 13 million abandoned homes and commercial properties in the US, while large numbers of families live doubled and tripled up in properties which were designed to be private homes
      While the comparison is not exact, there are some powerful similarities between what happened to subprime mortgages and what is currently taking place with charter schools, another “short cut” to opportunity which has been seized upon by elites for financial and political gain, to the detriment of those for whom the charter school was initially designed to help.
     Charter schools, which are public funded schools which have their own boards of directors and can set their own hiring policies, curricula, and patterns of student recruitment and discipline independent of the regulations governing public schools , were initially created to promote greater experimentation and innovation in public education.  Many early charter schools were created by teachers and parents and promoted innovative pedagogies. Some still do.
    But somewhere along the line, public officials began to see charter schools as a way of circumventing expensive labor contracts with teachers unions and of providing an alternative to public schools in inner city communities which had been battered by disinvestment, job losses and drug epidemics. They invited foundations and the private sector to come in and create charter schools on a far larger scale and with a very different model than parent/teacher cooperatives, using private money as well as public money.  The professed goal was to give inner city parents and students safe alternatives to battered, underfunded and often troubled public schools, something many parents welcomed, but inviting powerful interests to help shape what was essentially an alternate school system free from public regulation and oversight proved to be as dangerous as it was tantalizing.
    By the end of the Clinton Administration, “Charter School Fever” had started to spread through Corporate America and Wall Street, spurred on by an investment tax credit that offered huge tax breaks for those who invested in charter school construction.  Not only did the number of charter schools rise exponentially in every city in the country, but self- described “education entrepreneurs” began creating  charter school chains, some of them non profit, some of them for profit,  which attracted  private funding along with public money, headed by powerful “CEO’s” who were sometimes relatives and friends of powerful politicians, and in a few instances, politicians ( or ex-politicians) themselves. Flush with funding the chains began building new schools in inner city neighborhoods where public schools were starved of funding, or in some cases, colonizing existing public school buildings and seizing the best facilities.  Founders of the new chains eagerly embraced the corporate model of management, giving their executives far higher salaries than their counterparts in public education, and creating a climate of insecurity and fear for their teachers, along with data driven performance targets, with the expressed goal of vastly outperforming inner city public schools on the standardized tests which had become the central component of school evaluation following the passage of No Child Left Behind.   
    By the middle of the Bush administration, hundreds of new charter schools had been created in cities throughout the country and charter schools were rapidly emerging as the favored strategy for inner city education among an unprecedented array of interests including Wall Street and Silicon Valley, Civil rights organizations, Hollywood and the media, and the Democratic and Republican leadership. The prospect of creating great schools in inner city communities while  offering opportunities for profitable investment, all without raising taxes or increasing school budgets proved irresistible to  a broad spectrum of the nation’s leadership. Charter Schools, like subprime Mortgages, were increasingly marketed as a Win/Win proposition for all concerned, a way to help the poor while unleashing the creative power of the private sector. The power and breadth of this emerging coalition was revealed for all the nation to see when Hurricane Katrina struck the city of New Orleans in 2005.   Charter School advocates literally seized upon Katrina as the “Perfect Storm,  putting forth a plan to turn New Orleans into all Charter School district by phasing out and closing all public schools in the city. During the last three years of the Bush administration, the plan was put into effect with the full support of the city administration and the state legislature, leading to the closing of scores of New Orleans public schools and the firing of thousands of teachers, many of them teachers of color, replacing them with charter schools staffed by mostly white teachers supplied by Teach for America.
   But in terms of Charter School Fever and Charter School Favoritism, the Bush years proved to be only a prelude to what was to transpire in the Obama Administration.  With the appointment of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education and the launching of Race to the Top, President Obama not only made Charter School Favoritism official national policy, he put hundreds of billions   dollars of federal funds behind an effort to force municipalities to close “failing” public schools (defined as failing exclusively on the basis of student test scores) and replace them with charters.  At a time when the nation had fallen into a severe Recession, municipalities eagerly complied as a way of getting much needed federal funds, closing public schools en masse  and creating thousands of new charters, often with little oversight and only the most perfunctory investigation of the school founders and boards of directors.  Ironically, this was done even though the available research showed that charters did NOT outperform public schools in the same neighborhoods, with comparable student populations.  But data and evidence, when its results were inconvenient, did not deter the President and Secretary of Education from promoting Charter Schools as their preferred solution to problems of educational inequality, a position affirmed for all to see when the President celebrated “National Charter School Week” rather than “Teacher Appreciation Week.”
       It is in the Obama years, with the financial incentives of Race to the Top sparking rapid charter school growth with little oversight, that the abuses associated with charter schools began to take on proportions akin to those associated with the subprime mortgage crisis. In the case of the charter school industry, the abuses took two forms:  mistreatment of students, teachers, and families, and fiscal issues ranging from mismanagement to outright embezzlement and fraud.
   Many of the educational abuses of charter schools stem from their determination to make sure their test scores surpass those of neighboring public schools, thereby justifying the favorable treatment they receive, and hope to receive in the future.  These abuses include:
** Discrimination against Special Needs students and English Language learners. In every city in the nation, charter schools enroll far lower number of such students than public schools in the same neighborhoods.
** Expulsion or harassment of student who do not test well, sometimes right before state tests. In some cities, public school teachers have called this “The Charter School Dump” as they can expect an influx of charter schools students, who they HAVE TO accept, shortly before test time.  On one instance a famous charter school operator in NY expelled his entire 8th grade class because of their disappointing performance on tests
** Draconian discipline policies which would never be tolerated in public schools such as putting students in closets, having them stare at walls, or wear special articles of clothing to indicate they are being punished when they violate school behavior codes.
** Telling students, parents and teachers to avoid all contact with their counterparts in co-located or neighboring public schools lest they be “polluted” or “corrupted” by such contact.
** Failure to hire or retain teachers of color. Charter schools have far lower proportions of such teachers than public schools with comparable student populations.
Not all charter schools practice these forms of discrimination. But enough do, with the number growing every day, that the issue cries out for investigation at the city, state and federal level.
The same is true of fiscal abuse and political favoritism, which, if anything, may even be more prevalent. These include
**Inflated salaries for Charter School CEO’s and founders of charter school chains. One charter school operator in Washington DC is under investigation for drawing more than 3 million dollars in compensation a year.
** Putting public officials, and relatives of public officials on the boards of charter schools seeking public funding. Instances of this have been uncovered in Indiana, Florida, California, and Tennessee and can probably be found in most other states.
**Outright embezzlement of funds by charter school operators, instances of which have been uncovered in New York, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Connecticut.
** Involvement of charter school operators in real estate fraud with the intention of inflating the value of properties in neighborhoods where new charter schools are being built.
** The creation of on line and for profit charter schools, without serious oversight, even though such entities have no track record of effective instruction.
** The granting of charter school franchises, in some states, to religious institutions which teach creationism and biblical literalism, and exclude students who do not share those beliefs.
  What we have here, to put it bluntly, is a pattern of discrimination and fraud that hurts the very families the charter schools were intended to help, allows ambitious individuals to enrich themselves at public expense, and ultimately undermines the quality of public education in cities throughout the nation. The entire charter industry, riddled with fraud, corruption and discrimination, is poised to slowly build to a public education collapse if the trends of cherry picking the best students, dumping the high needs kids into public schools then closing them for under performing continues.
 It is time that all forms of Charter School Favoritism come to an end, that Charter Schools be subject to the same level of oversight that public schools are, that closing of public schools to make way for Charters stop immediately and that there be no further expansion of charter schools until their patterns of governance and operation fully investigated

Saturday, July 5, 2014

NBI at the NEA-Restore Crenshaw HS Music Director Dr Iris Stevenson

Important NBI at the NEA!

Restore Crenshaw High School Music Director Dr. Iris Stevenson

Therefore Be It Resolved That:

1. The NEA calls for the return of Dr. Iris Stevenson to her post as head of the Music and Performing Arts Magnet at Crenshaw High School now.

2. The NEA calls for an end to the LAUSD School Board policy of firing or driving out beloved and successful teachers who foster creative and critical thinking.

3. The NEA calls for an end to LAUSD’s practice of placing teachers in “teacher jail” where teachers are taken out of their classrooms and forced to report to without any charges or explanation, simply to be driven out of the teaching profession. 


Dr. Iris Stevenson is one of Los Angeles’ most renowned music teachers and the pride of Crenshaw High School. Under her leadership, the school’s choirs have won numerous national and international music competitions, performed across the globe, and have been invited to sing for world political leaders including President Barack Obama, French President Jacques Chirac and Prince Charles of Britain. 

In November 2013, Dr. Stevenson of took members of the Choir on a triumphant Thanksgiving Holiday tour that began during their break. By invitation, the Choir sang for the French government in France and for President Obama at the White House. 

Upon returning in December 2013, Dr. Stevenson was suspended by LAUSD administration pending a sham “investigation” for the District to determine whether they approved a trip that they could never have refused to sanction. For five months, Dr. Stevenson had to report to “teacher jail”, and today she is still suspended from her classroom at Crenshaw High School.

The District’s attack against Ms. Stevenson is politically motivated. Ms. Stevenson has been a champion of public education, especially for black, Latina/o, and immigrant students. She fought against the reconstitution of Crenshaw High School. Through Ms. Stevenson, students for many years have been able to break the boundaries of the isolation that comes from the profound racial segregation and mistreatment of the Crenshaw community. For thirty years Dr. Stevenson’s choir members have had the opportunity to travel the nation and the world, performing before government officials, royalty, celebrities, and countless others. She has helped thousands of students overcome so many stereotypes and to refine who they are. The District is targeting and witch- hunting Dr. Stevenson because she fights for her black, Latina/o and immigrant students, raises their expectations and fills their hearts and minds with hope and confidence. She is a living example of what can be achieved through public education and a classroom regime premised on bringing out the best in students. 

Winning this fight will build our movement and serve as an example for students and youth everywhere that when we fight we can win. It will strengthen the campaign to save public education and be a milestone in the struggle to defeat the new Jim Crow.

National Pattern of Decline in Percentage of Black Teachers

National Pattern of Decline in Percentage of Black Teachers

June 29, 2014 at 1:20pm
 From the late 1990's to today
44% to 19%
30% to 18%
12.3%  to 6.5%
Los Angeles
14.5% to  10%
San Francisco
8.3% to 4.6%
Please continue to gather this information
For New Orleans, NY, Detroit, DC, Newark, Philadelphia

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Short Bibliography on Charter School Corruption

Leonie Haimson: Six Charter School Myths
Will Anyone Stop Charter School Corruption from Truthout
Who Is Profiting From Charters? From Alernet
Charter School Vulnerability to Waste Fraud and Abuse- Report from Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education
Charter Schools Gone Wild from Bill Moyers:
Detroit Free Press Report on Charter School Corruption in Michigan
Why The Education Reforms in New Orleans Failed- A Report
Diane Ravitch on the Failures of the New Orleans Charter School District
Washington School District Sues Charter School Founder for Getting Rich at Public Expense
Who Will Stop Charter School Corruption from NPE News
Article on Florida  Charter School Abuses

On UNO Scandal in Chicago

How the Charter School Racket operates in Michigan

List of Florida's 250 Failed Charter Schools

Colonialism Not Reform: New Orleans Schools Since Katrina

Ex Charter School CEO admits tax fraud -

Hustlers Cash in On Charter School Craze,0,301120.column
Diane Ravitch: Is the Charter Movement Imploding

Charter School Corruption in North Carolina

New Chicago Charter Put on Hold Because of FBI Probe